With the exception of a couple of top-grossing Gotham arthouses, the much-anticipated theatrical debut of Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “Lolita” turned out to be more sizzle than steak.
The controversial Pathe production, which went distributor-less in the U.S. until Showtime finally picked it up for a pay-cable premiere, grossed a tepid $105,000 in 15 locations in the greater New York and L.A. areas. That pencils out to just $7,000 per screen, not exactly fiery, given the massive amount of ink devoted to the picture and its search for a domestic home.
The film did find some audiences in New York, selling out shows at the downtown Angelika and the Upper West Side’s Lincoln Plaza, where it was tracked to gross a hefty $28,000. But grosses were a fraction of that in Los Angeles and in suburban runs on both coasts.
In addition to the millions of marketing dollars Showtime spent in advance of its four August telecasts, Goldwyn Films organized a full-court publicity-driven campaign that included talkshow tours for director Adrian Lyne and the film’s young star, Dominique Swain.
There was also a soundtrack CD and tie-ins with the publishers of both Stephen Schiff’s screenplay and a 40th anniversary reissue of the original Nabokov novel.
But, in addition to the picture’s dicey subject matter — a love affair between a middle-aged man and a pubescent girl — there’s no getting around the fact that the film has already played on TV.
The effect of the cable premiere on attendance was highlighted by the fact that in its pre-cable Oscar-qualifying one-week run, “Lolita” grossed a whopping $41,000 at a single L.A. arthouse.
This time around, at L.A.’s Westside Pavillion, the picture finished the weekend with about $3,500, behind Miramax’s six-week-old “Next Stop Wonderland.”
Goldwyn’s Jeff Lipsky, a highly respected arthouse marketer, still has high hopes for the picture, however. He thinks of the cable premieres as “the best possible sneak previews” and plans to expand the film into 12 more markets in the next two weeks and then go national in late October or early November.
Lipsky said the company also plans a big Oscar push, adding, “This could be the first date movie of the 21st Century.”